Dozens of former criminal justice officials and political leaders sent a letter to Congress supporting the USA Patriot Act, saying it played "a vital role" in protecting the nation against terrorism by removing legal barriers to gathering information.
The newly formed Coalition for Security, Liberty and the Law says the act, passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, allowed police officers, FBI agents, federal prosecutors and intelligence officials to "protect our communities by connecting the dots to uncover terrorist plots before they are completed."
Several sections of the act relating to enhanced foreign intelligence and law enforcement surveillance authority expire on Dec. 31, 2005, unless renewed by Congress.
Those who signed Thursday's letter include three former attorneys general, Edwin Meese, Richard Thornburgh and William P. Barr; two former deputy attorneys general, Larry Thompson and George Terwilliger; two former solicitors general, Robert Bork and Theodore B. Olson; and former New York City Mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani and Ed Koch.
Also signing the letter were former Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican who headed the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs; former U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova; and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Victoria Toensing.
"Our fight against terrorism will be a long and difficult struggle," said Mr. Olson, whose wife, Barbara, died on the hijacked jetliner that struck the Pentagon. "It is important that we have the tools the Patriot Act provides for this struggle in our post-September 11 world."
Frank J. Gaffney Jr., president of the Center for Security Policy, which sponsors the coalition, said the press often focuses on those who attack the Patriot Act, but many Americans understand the importance of "this counterterrorism tool to our success in fighting the war on terror."
In the letter, coalition members say the Patriot Act played a key role in successful efforts to thwart terrorists seeking to destroy the United States, adding that it allows investigators to use tools that had been available to investigate organized crime and drug trafficking but were blocked in the pursuit of terrorism.
Before September 11, the letter says, officials were prevented by legal and bureaucratic restrictions from sharing critical information with each other. It says the law also strengthened penalties for crimes committed by terrorists and that after its passage, terrorist cells were dismantled in Oregon, New York, North Carolina and Virginia.
"The government's success to date in preventing another catastrophic attack on the American homeland since September 11, 2001, would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, without the USA Patriot Act," the letter says.
Among other signers were William J. Bennett, former secretary of education and director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police; William Clark, former secretary of the interior; C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel; and Jack Kemp, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development.